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Low Budget PARK ROW


visualfeast
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John Sayles' first choice last night was a film that I'm sure most viewers had never heard of. It was a low-budget Sam Fuller effort called PARK ROW. With one set and a group of second string character actors, he created a superior film. About the early days of journalism in New York City, Fuller captured the early-day idealism and honor of the fourth estate, with a minimal budget and no stars.

If he'd been given a reasonable budget and possibly Van Heflin and Jennifer Jones in lead roles, this film would have been remembered throughout time.

Supposedly, Zanuck wanted to do it as a musical with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner. If that's true, we're lucky to have the low-budget Sam Fuller version.

Can anyone imagine Gregory Peck in a musical?

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I liked this one, too, but maybe that's just more testimony about Sam Fuller The Storyteller. Some people can do it, some can't, and thinking of this film as a musical... (shudder).

 

I think the musical version of FULL METAL JACKET would have been better. I wonder if Gus Van Sant is considering that, or the musical version of PSYCHO next?

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"Can anyone imagine Gregory Peck in a musical?"

 

Sure, Visualfeast. I can see it now:

 

Gregory Peck IS Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof!!

 

Sondheim could have written Sunday in the Park with Greg

 

Pal Greggy by Lorenz Hart & Richard Rodgers

 

Mr. Peck would probably have looked lovely with a bald noggin in The Greg and I

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Hi Knitty,

I agree about Gene Evans being a bit toned down in his acting style, though he also seemed to be trying to have fun being a lead for once. Evans also seemed to be remarkable toned, period. Mr. Osborne said that he lost 20 pounds to get this role and I can't think of a time when I've ever seen him this slim. Heck, except for westerns and "My Friend Flicka" repeats, I've never seen Evans when he was a civilian and when he didn't spend the entire movie with a cigar in his face. Maybe this means that we'll get to take another gander at Fixed Bayonets or The Steel Helmet to complete our Gene Evans film festival soon.

 

Too bad that it wasn't in color so we could see the contrast of his red hair with that of his rival, the dark haired newspaper titan/harridan played by Mary Welch. Yeah, their kiss was pretty good, but Evans was already taken in a larger sense, a fact that became abundantly clear when post clinch, he said their "baby" would be The Globe.

 

I also got a kick out of seeing that Joe Doakes himself, George O'Hanlon, had finally escaped from those shorts he was usually stuck in. Playing Steve Brodie, the man who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, he was a hoot.

 

I sometimes have a hard time with Sam Fuller's punchy style featuring very short scenes, extreme closeups and lots of movement--but the passionate commitment of the ink-stained wretches and the mood of the period in NYC was beautifully captured on that big set. I also loved the stagey way every other scene gave us a bit of a history lesson in the big city newspaper evolution from the creation of the newsroom to news stands to typesetting machines! It would be a great movie for a high school journalism or history class to analyze wouldn't it?

 

Btw, I'm glad that no one asked Gene Evans to sing either.

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I wrote this brief review at another film website and decided to post it here. Comments welcome:

 

PARK ROW (1952/USA)

 

"Page One and the screen are bedmates. A headline has the impact of a headshot, pulp and raw stock fight linage and footage--a news lead is the opening of a film. Reporter and film director spill blood on the same emotional battlefield of what is fit to print and what is fit to film."

(Sam Fuller's 1975 interview at the American Film Institute)

 

"I always come away from Samuel Fuller films both admiring and jealous. I like to take lessons in filmmaking"

(Francois Truffaut in his book "The Films of My Life")

 

Samuel Fuller proposed to direct a script he had written about American journalism in the 1880s. Darryl F. Zanuck wanted to turn it into a musical. Instead, Fuller decided to produce it himself and spent his life savings ($200,000) on it. It was a labor of love for Fuller, who became a reporter at age 17 after five years as a copyboy. It's the story of Phineas Mitchell, a principled reporter who opts to quit his job rather than print anything but the truth. He sits with assorted colleages in a bar, drinking beer and dreaming aloud about the honest paper he could run. He is overheard by an older gentleman who decides to invest in Phineas' dream. He assembles a capable staff who turn "The Globe" into enough of a success to compete with his former employer, "The Star". Its owner, Charity Hackett, declares all-out war after failing to woo Phineas back. The plot weaves in the invention of the first linotype machine and efforts to raise $100,000 to build the pedestal needed for the Statue of Liberty. The love/hate relationship between Phineas and the beautiful, strong-willed Charity is fully explored.

 

Park Row features a cast of outstanding character actors, including Gene Evans and Mary Welch in the leads, but no stars. The film is compact and dynamic, with a camera that moves nimbly and elegantly about a specially built set. Jack Russell, who would get an Oscar nomination for Psycho, was in charge of cinematography. Besides the dolly and crane shots used, the film is characterized by closeups and medium shots in which the camera is placed slightly above and to the side of the actors, somewhere between the more extreme angles often used by Welles and conventional studio framing. Fuller's focus is on straightforward storytelling and narrative economy without sacrificing character development. This film, "dedicated to American Journalism", is said to be Fuller's favorite* and it's easy to see why. It's magnificent.

 

*According to Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne. Park Row is not available on video and rarely screened. It was shown recently at the request of filmmaker John Sayles, who served as guest programmer.

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Maybe this means that we'll get to take another gander at Fixed Bayonets or The Steel Helmet to complete our Gene Evans film festival soon.

 

Gene Evans is a favorite of mine and it was nice to see him in a Fuller movie sans Army uniform. Then, this weekend during a Suzanne Pleshette, a ROUTE 66 episode with her as a guest was shown. Forget Marty Milner and George Maharis...there was Gene Evans (with Claude Akins as his brother). Interestingly, it was about a horse that was being set up as a murderer. Even though it looked like the horse killed Mr. Evans, I was confident that that could not be the case because of all of that experience he had handling Flicka. Sure enough, the horse was innocent and Akins was guilty.

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